LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Golf is a crazy, mysterious and inscrutable game.
Charlie Beljan is the latest exhibit in a giant warehouse of proof the game has offered up over the years.
Steven Spielberg couldn’t make the story Beljan is scripting believable this weekend at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.
Beljan’s name is atop the leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round on Disney’s Magnolia Course after he spent a night in a hospital wondering if his name was about to be etched on a tombstone.
“I have never seen nothing like that before,” said Rick Adcox, Beljan’s caddie. “I have been caddieing since 1971, and I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve never been involved in anything like that.”
Adcox was talking about the 64 Beljan shot Friday while battling a racing heart, bouts of hyperventilating and near fainting spells. All of that led to Beljan being toted out of the scoring center on a stretcher and raced to Florida Hospital Celebration for an overnight stay.
“I thought I literally had a chance to die,” Beljan said.
Adcox couldn’t believe the score Beljan put up in that condition.
“The golf shots he was hitting, knowing what was going on, wondering if this was the last shot he was going to hit,” Adcox said.
Former Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Parnell Dickinson was paired with Beljan as an amateur on Friday.
“He came up to me and said `I’d want that guy on my football team; he has guts,’” Adcox said. “I thought that was pretty cool coming from a guy who played football.”
Adcox was nearly as astounded by what Beljan did on Saturday after getting nearly no sleep while undergoing a battery of tests in his overnight hospital stay. Beljan grinded out a 1-under-par 71 in the third round that leaves him two shots ahead of Brian Gay, Josh Teater and Charlie Wi going into Sunday’s finish.
Beljan said he didn’t have a clue he was leading the tournament until he looked at his cellphone at 10:30 Friday night.
He said it was 4:30 Saturday morning when doctors finally finished tests that included a CAT scan, X-rays and blood work. That’s when he looked down and noticed his size-15 feet were still stuffed in his golf shoes.
Looking at his shoes, some six hours before he was supposed to tee off in Saturday’s third round, he didn’t think he could play.
“I would probably say 99.9 percent that I was not going to show up today,” Beljan said.
Doctors told Beljan, 28, that the tests revealed no apparent cause for his health issues. He left the hospital believing he suffered from a panic attack that “spun out of control.” He said it was the fifth or sixth episode like that he has battled over the last two months, since he passed out on an airplane leaving the Reno-Tahoe Classic the first week of August. He toppled over on his way to the bathroom on that flight and crashed into the cockpit door, leading the airline to make an emergency landing.
It isn’t just a crazy week Beljan’s dealing with.
It has been a crazy rookie year.
Last December, he makes it through Q-School. In January, playing the first round of his first PGA Tour event, he learns his girlfriend is having a baby. He gets married in March amid a rough start to his season, making just three of his first 11 cuts. Battling a hand injury, he undergoes surgery in the spring. He makes a run at The Greenbrier Classic in the summer, tying for third, and then his son, Graham, is born in September.
With all of that on his plate, he arrived this week at Disney at 139th on the money list knowing he likely needs a top-10 finish to keep his Tour card.
“It's been a long, exciting, hectic, crazy, stressful year, but hopefully we're going to end it with a bang,” Beljan said.
Beljan wasn’t so sure when he was released from the hospital at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, less than three hours before his scheduled tee time. Doctors told him they were confident he was healthy enough to be released from their care, but they didn’t necessarily recommend that he play under the pressure he would face in a PGA Tour event with his card in jeopardy. He left the hospital barely having slept an hour.
“I showed up this morning, and I was scared,” Beljan said. “I was nervous and kind of embarrassed about the whole show that happened Friday. I didn’t know how I was going to take today, if those feelings were going to come back. There were a lot of unknowns today.”
Beljan’s manager and friend, Andy Dawson, watched his player closely through the opening holes.
“When he made the birdie at five, I thought he was going to be fine,” Dawson said.
Dawson could see Adcox feeding Beljan and making sure he was drinking plenty of fluids. Adcox made Beljan a peanut butter sandwich at one caddie station. He kept handing him bananas. It was notable, because Beljan doesn’t usually like to eat on the golf course.
“It’s the most he’s eaten on a golf course, ever,” Adcox said.
Though Beljan said he battled through some anxiety on the eighth and ninth holes, he fought it off. While he said he plans to visit the Mayo Clinic for a head-to-toe checkup when this event’s over, he is fairly certain his issues are psychological.
A light-hearted Beljan was able to laugh about his predicament Saturday night.
“It’s the little space between the ears I have to work on,” he said. “I’ve got to get some help, that’s what I’ve got to do.”
There’s family help on the way Sunday. Beljan said he learned his wife, Merisa, and his son, Graham, are flying into Orlando from their Mesa, Ariz., home to see the final round.
His wife is a former EMT who used to drive ambulances.
“I am looking forward to seeing 'em tomorrow,” Beljan said. “My wife and I have always talked about how cool it is to see the family and the kids run out on the green on the 18th hole after somebody wins. That would be the ultimate feeling, the ultimate rush, the dream come true.”